Twilight: Rules For Dating My Daughter

[Twilight Content Note: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Winning At Patriarchy.
Extra Content Note: Misogyny, Conservative Christian Fathers (CCF), Sex-Shaming]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 17, we play baseball. 

Twilight, Chapter 17: The Game

OK! It's still the baseball chapter! We're gonna baseball the crap outta this chapter. I mean it this time. I have been looking forward to this chapter for something like forever. Wheee!

When we last left our heroine, she was being uncharacteristically snippy at Billy and Billy was framing his perfectly reasonable objections to dating a supernatural mass-murderer as though he once heard a rumor that Edward smoked a cinnamon cigarello behind the school gym once. (There are also rumors that he might own a leather jacket. You don't wanna go steady with a boy like that, do you Bella? You're one of the Good Girls!)

Which is to say: Billy is being weirdly puritanical rather than genuinely concerned and his response is not to offer Bella shelter on the reservation (where vampires are forbidden to go) like you would to, you know, a woman facing the threat of abuse from an obsessive and powerful boyfriend, but rather his response is to instead semi-threaten to tattle to Charlie, before being the first to blink in the wimpiest game of chicken ever.

I can perfectly believe that everything about this scene fits a conversation that S. Meyer may have experienced or have heard about from her friends; what everyone involved in the making of this novel seemed to forget (possibly intentionally? for the cozy?) is that this dialogue makes no goddamn sense in the context of serial killing vampires. But whatever, let's plow through.

   Just think about what you’re doing, Bella,” he urged.
   “Okay,” I agreed quickly.
   He frowned. “What I meant to say was, don’t do what you’re doing.”
   I looked into his eyes, filled with nothing but concern for me, and there was nothing I could say.

Ooh! Ooh! I can think of some things!

Bella means that there's nothing she can say to convince him this is a good idea, and that's probably true. (For that matter, it's probably fair: I'm still not sure that dating Edward is a "good idea". It's her choice and I respect that choice and it ends up working out the way she wants, but for various definitions of "good idea", it's not.)

But there are things Bella can say to keep the lines of communication open with Billy. "Thanks", might be a start, and it maybe wouldn't hurt to follow it with, "If things ever get bad, can I give you a call or drop by for a visit?" Or there's the classic, "I really believe everything will be fine, but I appreciate you being my friend through this."

Customary disclaimer time: Bella isn't obliged to keep open the lines of communication, just as Billy isn't obliged to provide an open offer of protection. But Billy is a close friend of the family, and is very possibly the one person in Forks who (a) would believe Bella if things went south and (b) would have any chance at protecting her. Here is his chance to prove that he genuinely cares about her, by making an open offer of safe space. Instead I'm very worried that he's just going to feel like he gave his warning and it's all on her head now if she gets hurt. There's a fine line between respecting a teenager's independence versus slut-shaming her because she didn't listen to your ambiguous and poorly-worded portentous warning.

And that's assuming that she knows the full picture--Billy doesn't know if she does or not. Let's make a list of all the things that Bella might not know even while Billy is saying that those kids in the woods are dangerous dontchaknow:

1. That the Cullens are vampires. (Known.)
2. That the Cullens are killers. (Known.)
3. That the Cullens are affiliated with a vampire mob. (Partially known.)
4. That the vampire mob monitors the activities of the Cullens. (Not known.)
5. That the Cullens don't visit the reservation. (Known.)
6. That the Cullens probably can't safely visit the reservation. (Not known.)
7. ...because there are werewolves (or potential werewolves) on the reservation. (Not known.)
8. ...therefore the reservation would be a safe hiding place for her. (Not known.)
9. ...whereas the Cullen house is unsafe due to the surveillance of the vampire mob. (Not known.)

And, oh, hey, there's one more thing that Bella does know: Evil vampires are coming to visit.

Bella knows this because Edward told her. She knows they are specifically, intentionally coming to visit the Cullens. Edward's solution to this is to keep Bella by his side until they leave. Because Edward is a self-centered prat who believes that the world revolves around him and that he of all the people in the world can keep Bella safe. This mistake will (of course) put Bella on the radar of these evil vampires and will (if I understand correctly) provide the plot vehicle for the next two books.

To a certain extent, the werewolves in this novel are a Chekhov's gun that keeps jamming. Jacob was introduced early on in order to tell Bella that Edward was a vampire; S. Meyer has explicitly stated that she needed to create Jacob because Edward couldn't make himself say the word. And because apparently having Bella research it out herself would have been too proactive for our heroine. That early incarnation of Jacob then spawned an entire mythology of a safe space (the reservation) guarded by supernatural guardians (the werewolves) who are triggered into action by the presence of a vampire and who are uniquely placed to offer protection for Bella from the supernatural evil that will soon focus on her.

If we then followed the normal conventions of the Chekhov's gun, then we know what would happen next: Bella would seek refuge on the reservation when her life will soon be threatened by the evil vampires. The Cullens would be forced to concede a measure of gratitude and respect to the Quileute people for their decision to protect someone who will soon be One Of Them. The parameters of the treaty might need to be revisited--instead of a non-aggression pact, they might soon have an agreement of mutual aid (for when/if the Volturi become involved). And Bella and Edward might come to realize (sooner rather than later) that their actions have wider consequences and that all their privilege doesn't make them invulnerable.

This potential narrative would not be a flawless narrative, because it would mean that a tribe of American Indians were spawned into existence for purposes of this novel (by which I mean: if S. Meyer hadn't needed Jacob, probably the real world Quileute Nation would not have existed in this novel, or at least no more so than the New York Yankees exist, i.e., silently and without mention) in order to protect a white woman. That's appropriation and appropriately bad. Yet somehow it seems almost worse that right after Billy comes by to be all "vampires are dangerous!" and right after Edward will realize "vampires want to kill my girlfriend!", literally no one even considers that they could go ask the friend-of-the-family and local Chieftain of Badass Werewolves for help in protecting Bella. Instead, the Cullens are going to handle everything themselves and Bella will nearly wind up dead in the process.

And it means that pretty much every mention of Billy and Jacob in this novel are just establishing their existence for the sequels. This is badly written, badly edited, and still appropriative in a truly bad way, yet without ever pulling together a continuous narrative: Billy's warning here is a self-contained episode that will in no way affect the events that unfold after Bella has to go on the lam. (If nothing else, you'd think this conversation might affect what Billy tells Charlie when Charlie goes to him for commiseration when Bella storms out and declares she's going back to Arizona. Will Billy think his conversation with Bella caused her to break up with Edward, or will he think this is some kind of ruse to kidnap Bella without Charlie knowing? Since Billy doesn't exist when he's not on the page, it doesn't matter!)

   “Well, Bella, tell Charlie” — Billy paused before continuing — “that we stopped by, I mean.”   “I will,” I muttered.
   Jacob was surprised. “Are we leaving already?”
   “Charlie’s gonna be out late,” Billy explained as he rolled himself past Jacob.
   “Oh.” Jacob looked disappointed. “Well, I guess I’ll see you later, then, Bella.”
   “Sure,” I agreed.
   “Take care,” Billy warned me. I didn’t answer.


We've got a few more things to run down before BASEBALL and wow it's almost like someone should have paced this sequence out better. I kinda expect Bella to find the last three Lost Lords slumped over in her closet or something at this point.

   I tried on a couple of different tops, not sure what to expect tonight. As I concentrated on what was coming, what had just passed became insignificant. Now that I was removed from Jasper’s and Edward’s influence, I began to make up for not being terrified before. I gave up quickly on choosing an outfit — throwing on an old flannel shirt and jeans — knowing I would be in my raincoat all night anyway.

That's a self-contained paragraph; I didn't cut anything there. The narrative is basically saying: "Now that I was away from my controlling, Mind-Reading boyfriend and his controlling, Mind-Controlling brother, I started to have feels again and those feels were terrified. So I decided to wear flannel because no one would see it anyway." I... I'm just going to leave that there for now, like a particularly nasty pothole that I don't know what to do with save drive around it.

   The phone rang and I sprinted downstairs to get it. There was only one voice I wanted to hear; anything else would be a disappointment. But I knew that if he wanted to talk to me, he’d probably just materialize in my room.
   “Hello?” I asked, breathless.
   “Bella? It’s me,” Jessica said.
   “Oh, hey, Jess.” I scrambled for a moment to come back down to reality. It felt like months rather than days since I’d spoken to Jess. “How was the dance?”
   “It was so much fun!” Jessica gushed. Needing no more invitation than that, she launched into a minute-by-minute account of the previous night. I mmm’d and ahh’d at the right places, but it wasn’t easy to concentrate. Jessica, Mike, the dance, the school — they all seemed strangely irrelevant at the moment. My eyes kept flashing to the window, trying to judge the degree of light behind the heavy clouds.
   “Did you hear what I said, Bella?” Jess asked, irritated.
   “I’m sorry, what?”
   “I said, Mike kissed me! Can you believe it?”
   “That’s wonderful, Jess,” I said.

And here's another one of those passages where, I think, we're supposed to feel like Jessica is an annoying bitch for just wanting to talk about the insignificant details of her insignificant life when clearly Bella has greater things on her mind, but it just doesn't read right to me. I mean, I've definitely known people like that, who latch onto "friends" as someone to use for talking at, but Jess reads so much more to me like someone who is genuinely trying to be friendly to Bella. Case in point:

   “So what did you do yesterday?” Jessica challenged, still sounding bothered by my lack of attention. Or maybe she was upset because I hadn’t asked for details.
   “Nothing, really. I just hung around outside to enjoy the sun.”
   I heard Charlie’s car in the garage.
   “Did you ever hear anything more from Edward Cullen?”
   The front door slammed and I could hear Charlie banging around under the stairs, putting his tackle away.
   “Um.” I hesitated, not sure what my story was anymore.
   “Hi there, kiddo!” Charlie called as he walked into the kitchen. I waved at him.
   Jess heard his voice. “Oh, your dad’s there. Never mind — we’ll talk tomorrow. See you in Trig.”
   “See ya, Jess.” I hung up the phone.

She asks about Bella's day. She asks about the boy that she knows (or must suspect) Bella is hung up on. She seems genuinely sympathetic and willing to listen. She recognizes that Bella can't talk about the juicy stuff with her dad on the other end, so rather than press her to spill it anyway or talk in code, she gives Bella a graceful out while promising to listen tomorrow.

This does not read to me like someone who just wants to talk about herself (in which case she'd probably not have asked about Edward at all; I've definitely known people to do a "hi, I just had to tell you [30 minutes of monologue] well, bye!" without asking me a single thing). Nor does it read to me like someone who is only talking to Bella for the gossip (in which case she'd probably have segued to Edward first without asking about her day, and probably wouldn't have let her go so easily).

Furthermore, Jessica would appear to have plenty of friends already (Lauren and Angela, among the faceless, nameless others) if she just wanted to gush about Mike's kiss. And she probably doesn't feel the need to brag about Mike to her "rival" Bella, since Bella's interest in Edward would seem to put the nail in the coffin of that particular rivalry. Really, the only reason I can see for Jessica's phone call is an actual desire to be friendly with That Quiet Girl From Arizona. Which makes Jessica endearing to me. And Bella's pouty ugh I only wanna talk to Edward response feels like all kinds of abuse warning bells: she's already cutting off contact with friends, and it's probably not a coincidence that Edward belittled Jessica earlier in the novel.

   Charlie cleaned up while I got dinner ready. It didn’t take long till we were sitting at the table, eating in silence. Charlie was enjoying his food. I was wondering desperately how to fulfill my assignment, struggling to think of a way to broach the subject.

That's not schoolwork she's talking about; she's been "assigned" to tell him that Edward is her boyfriend now and he's taking her out this evening for a "baseball game" to be played in some dark corner of the forest where sex could very easily happen. 

   “What did you do with yourself today?” he asked, snapping me out of my reverie.
   “Well, this afternoon I just hung out around the house. . . .” Only the very recent part of this afternoon, actually. I tried to keep my voice upbeat, but my stomach was hollow. “And this morning I was over at the Cullens’.”
   Charlie dropped his fork.
   “Dr. Cullen’s place?” he asked in astonishment.
   I pretended not to notice his reaction. “Yeah.”
   “What were you doing there?” He hadn’t picked his fork back up.

So, something like eleventy billion years ago, we all joshed that Charlie had some kind of understanding with the Cullens--that either they were bribing him (with cash in the FOOD MONEY jar) or that they had someone (possibly implicitly rather than explicitly) threatened him. There was haunting fanfic about Charlie visiting their house and seeing Esme in the shadows of the porch and reflecting on how eery and unsettling she looked. (I really wish Disqus cooperated with Google, sigh.) Some of this was spawned in an attempt to explain why Charlie would break off his longest and oldest friendship just because the folks at the reservation hated Carlisle on sight.

Probably, probably, none of this was intended by the author. Probably this whole omg you were at the Cullens' house is intended to be the "usual" response of a Conservative Christian Father who is worried about the purity of his little girl. After all, houses have beds and beds have penises in them and we all know what penises are for. Or something.

Yet this sudden and immediate overreaction doesn't ring true here unless Charlie knows more than he does. The Cullens have two daughters (Alice and Rosalie) who are in high school with Bella. They're prettier than Bella, but probably in the same attractiveness "league" at school given that every boy in Forks has now asked Bella out. They're also outsiders like Bella; unlike nearly everyone else in town, they didn't grow up here. Charlie has also previously noted that the Cullens are good people with good children who do good things. So it's very strange for him not to assume that Bella went over to spend time with her new BFFs, Alice Cullen and Rosalie Hale. It would appear that, like the author, Charlie has forgotten that they exist.

   “Well, I sort of have a date with Edward Cullen tonight, and he wanted to introduce me to his parents . . . Dad?”
   It appeared that Charlie was having an aneurysm.
   “Dad, are you all right?”
   “You are going out with Edward Cullen?” he thundered.
   Uh-oh. “I thought you liked the Cullens.”
   “He’s too old for you,” he ranted.
   “We’re both juniors,” I corrected, though he was more right than he dreamed.
   “Wait . . .” He paused. “Which one is Edwin?”
   “Edward is the youngest, the one with the reddish brown hair.” The beautiful one, the godlike one . . .
   “Oh, well, that’s” — he struggled — “better, I guess. I don’t like the look of that big one. I’m sure he’s a nice boy and all, but he looks too . . . mature for you. Is this Edwin your boyfriend?”
   “It’s Edward, Dad.”

And then there's all this slapstick, TEE-HEE! (I now want Eric Idle to play Charlie Swan in a comedic remake. Is your Edwin a goer? And a wink will be as good as a nudge.) And of course all this plays badly with Charlie's earlier strangely-passionate defense of the Cullens: he loves them all unreservedly, enough to break off friendship with Billy and rail angrily against the small-town prejudice of the gossipy Forksians, but he doesn't even know the names of the children, let alone which one is which.

And then we have ages. I know the Cullen children are all adopted, but if Edward is "the youngest" and is a junior, then presumably Jasper and Emmett are both seniors. That's a year's worth of difference, and seems like a strange thing for Charlie to hang up on here, of all the many things to focus on (like the fact that two of the boys are fucking two of the girls, which I feel would be more relevant to me as a parent). Maybe this could be hand-waved by Emmett being one of those kids who was at some point held back a year or two, but we're here running into the problem (again!) that if the Cullens don't look like high-schoolers, they should maybe stop pretending to be so.

Anyway, Charlie seems to be freaking out awfully hard about this Edwin boy. I mean, if his first impulse when getting a smoking hot new girlfriend is to make sure his parents meet her and approve (and maybe also show her the family piano!), then that hints at a very different sort of priorities than those dangerous boys who smoke cinnamon cigarellos behind the school gym and never think about anything except sex. I'm sure Bella will be fine.

   “Is he?”
   “Sort of, I guess.”
   “You said last night that you weren’t interested in any of the boys in town.” But he picked up his fork again, so I could see the worst was over.
   “Well, Edward doesn’t live in town, Dad.”
   He gave me a disparaging look as he chewed.

It probably matches the look on my face when I read that. Of all the things Bella could have said, she equivocates in the worst (and weirdest) possible way. How about, "I dunno, Dad, it's nothing serious or anything. We're just in biology together and he's kinda cute." OR LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE.

Once again, Bella is transmitting to everyone in the vicinity (a) the fact that she's a lying liar who lies and (b) red flags for abuse because, really, why would she lie so blatantly and so badly about something that should be innocuous? The presence of obvious lies means that there is something underlying that she feels she should be lying about. Bella is like when Dr. Foreman arrives at work less than two minutes late with a flimsy excuse about "car trouble" because he was feeling guilty about sleeping with a sales rep. "If your car breaks down, you’re an hour late, not two minutes. And two minutes isn’t late enough to use a clever excuse like car trouble."

And no one, not Billy not Charlie not anyone, ever stops to seriously question why Bella is doing all this apparently unnecessary lying. That's hugely problematic. 

   “And, anyways,” I continued, “it’s kind of at an early stage, you know. Don’t embarrass me with all the boyfriend talk, okay?”
   “When is he coming over?”
   “He’ll be here in a few minutes.”
   “Where is he taking you?”
   I groaned loudly. “I hope you’re getting the Spanish Inquisition out of your system now. We’re going to play baseball with his family.”
   His face puckered, and then he finally chuckled. “You’re playing baseball?”
   “Well, I’ll probably watch most of the time.”
   “You must really like this guy,” he observed suspiciously.
   I sighed and rolled my eyes for his benefit.

Oh, right. Because Bella can't play anything because of her undiagnosed medical problems and also she has very little interest in sports. We probably could have brought that up earlier in the narrative, but Bella was presumably too eager-to-please Edward (and too mind-whammied by Jasper) to bring it up herself.

   The doorbell rang, and Charlie stalked off to answer it. I was half a step behind him.

Ah, the Interrogate the Boyfriend scene.

This whole chapter so far works, but it only works in a different novel. Billy rolls into the kitchen and starts lecturing Bella about that Bad Boy she's been seen with and does she want the neighbors to talk? Charlie has stepped into the Conservative Christian Father role, bound and determined that his daughter's hymen will be the pristiniest hymen on the block. I'm not saying that none of this is unrealistic per se--Charlie and Billy are just as swamped in rape culture and purity culture and patriarchal culture as the rest of us--but I am saying that this feels like a conventional scene lifted from another genre and levered into place here.

Charlie has spent the entire novel alternately not caring what happens to Bella and urging her to date the Rich Local Kid (Mike) because... why? Because he wants her to find someone local to settle down with so that she won't leave when she graduates? Because he trusts her to have something fun and flingy before she heads off to college in a couple years? Because he wants her to fit in and find friends and not be so alone?

For purposes of the novel, he doesn't need a reason (the "reason" was to annoy Bella), but his actions nevertheless define character. Now he has another boy before him. This boy isn't fundamentally different from Mike except in that he is somewhat "more" of everything: more rich, more attractive, more desirable. He's not popular, but he's also new in town; the potential for popularity is there. And he belongs to a family that, previously in the novel, Charlie was happily singing their praises. So why doe Charlie treat him with hostility when he would have welcomed Mike in with open arms? Or are we to take from this that he would have been hostile to Mike, too, had Bella actually taken his advice and pursued him? We don't know, and we don't get to know, and the result is a Familiar Scene that feels slightly off here.

Edward sat down fluidly in the only chair, forcing me to sit next to Chief Swan on the sofa. 

And then there's touches like this: Bella mentally refers to her father as "Chief Swan". Really? Why? Why would you do this? This is like Chloe calling her father "Captain Steele". The honorific is probably meant to continue the theme that Bella doesn't feel connected to her father while providing some variety from the hammering of Charlie-Charlie-Charlie, but the end result provides a weird overtone of authority and deference to a character who for the entire length of the novel has had neither. 

   I quickly shot him a dirty look. He winked behind Charlie’s back.“So I hear you’re getting my girl to watch baseball.” Only in Washington would the fact that it was raining buckets have no bearing at all on the playing of outdoor sports.
   “Yes, sir, that’s the plan.” He didn’t look surprised that I’d told my father the truth. He might have been listening, though.

I... what? Why would she lie about the baseball plan? Was Bella expecting to lie and then surprised herself with the truth? Is there a more innocuous outing than "family baseball" where players get sweaty and smelly and parents chaperone everything and the only touching that occurs happens with a thick leathery mitt on one's hand? I'm imagining this scene now, after Bella and Edward leave:

"You told him we were playing baseball?"
"I know, I'm sorry. I was going to give him our cover story about making out in the mall theater, but I panicked."

   “Well, more power to you, I guess.”
   Charlie laughed, and Edward joined in.
   “Okay.” I stood up. “Enough humor at my expense. Let’s go.” I walked back to the hall and pulled on my jacket. They followed.

And then there's this. If Charlie is reading off the Conservative Christian Father cue cards, he's reading them upside down and from across a particularly dimly lit room. The fact that Male Model Edwin has managed to convince his sports-averse daughter to watch and/or play a sport she dislikes (and which may be actively dangerous or painful to her) is, if anything, a measure of how seriously she's into this guy. A serious-minded CCF would be aware of that, and would gauge Edwin's threat level to his daughter's hymen appropriately. (And that's assuming that he'd buy into this "baseball in the rain" theory in the first place. Also: Isn't Bella at high risk of catching a cold out in this stuff?)

   I stalked out. They both laughed, and Edward followed me.

But at least they can bond over their mockery of Bella.

   I stopped dead on the porch. There, behind my truck, was a monster Jeep. Its tires were higher than my waist. There were metal guards over the headlights and taillights, and four large spotlights attached to the crash bar. The hardtop was shiny red.
   Charlie let out a low whistle.
   “Wear your seat belts,” he choked out.
   Edward followed me around to my side and opened the door. I gauged the distance to the seat and prepared to jump for it. He sighed, and then lifted me in with one hand. I hoped Charlie didn’t notice.
   As he went around to the driver’s side, at a normal, human pace, I tried to put on my seat belt. But there were too many buckles.
   “What’s all this?” I asked when he opened the door.
   “It’s an off-roading harness.”


"Take care of my daughter, son! Bring her back by ten! No sex! And enjoy off-roading through the thick forest in the middle of a downpour that is so thick that Bella can't 'see [me] clearly on the porch'! Buh bye now!"

Charlie's character in this chapter isn't just inconsistent with what it's been up until now; it's actually inconsistent with itself from paragraph to paragraph.


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